Monday, May 19, 2014

Are All Jane Austen's Works Created Equal?

Recently, a friend asked me whether I could rank the heroines, heroes, and novels of Austen.  After giving it some thought, I decided that the question merited a post of its own, so here are my approximate rankings of the aforementioned characters and books (from favorite to least-favorite).
Note that I'm only "counting" her six finished novels, to simplify things.  Also, I consider both Marianne and Elinor to be heroines and Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars to be heroes. 


1. Emma
Emma was the first Austen novel that I read, and therefore automatically earns the top spot. ;P  But seriously, the fact that it was my introduction to the Regency world plays a large part in my liking of it, because otherwise I'd never be able to choose a favorite.  That's obviously not the only reason for it being #1, however; I personally think it's one of her best works and after seven readings I can still get extremely invested in it.

2. Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice, of course, goes near the top.  It's so vivacious and witty, as well as being the book that completed my conversion to Janeite-ness.  I'll admit, part of the reason that it isn't my favorite is because everyone likes it and that can get a little annoying, but it completely merits its popularity.

3. Northanger Abbey
Ahhhh...this book is just such FUN.  It's a novel for any occasion, being by turns funny, deep, romantic, and perilous (yes, perilous.  General Tilney is scary. :P).  Despite being, well, exaggeratedly normal, it has a real-life feel and the characters are always enjoyable.

4. Sense and Sensibility
How to describe Sense and Sensibility?  It was the second book I read of Jane's, and it's definitely the most emotional. (Seriously, did Charlotte Brontë even read S&S?? :P)  I'll admit that sometimes it just gets a bit too much for me, what with all the misery everyone (every sympathetic person, anyway) goes through and the general dark tone, which is why it's not higher up on my list.  But I still enjoy it, and the Marianne/Colonel Brandon romance is actually one of my favorites.

5. Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park, I find, has grown on me with each successive reading.  The first time I read it, I came as near to hating an Austen novel as is possible for a Janeite book-lover.  I found it dull, the characters annoying, and the plot too convoluted.  But now, I really, really like it (keep in mind, I still love the ones at the bottom of my list.  Just...not as much.).

6. Persuasion 
Persuasion...this book has actually been lowered in my estimation in subsequent rereadings.  It used to be higher than Mansfield Park.  I do enjoy it; the romance is sweet, and Anne Elliot is an estimable heroine, but most of the other characters are just!  That's the point JA was trying to make, maybe, but I don't especially enjoy reading about such things. :P


1. Elinor Dashwood
Elinor Dashwood is not up here because I would most enjoy her society, nor because I particularly
identify with her, but rather because she's a role model for me.  When I first read S&S, I really just thought she was a machine, but on subsequent read-throughs, I've really admired her self-control and love. 

2. Elizabeth Bennet
Ahhhh, Lizzy!  Who wouldn't love her?  I mean, she's witty, she's courageous, she's friendly, popular, sensible, responsible...the list goes on.  Of course, she has flaws as well, but she's willing to recognize them.  Eliza Bennet is always an enjoyable character to read about.

3. Anne Elliot
I generally get Anne on personality quizzes, which I suppose makes sense--she's quiet, loyal,
bookish, easily persuadable, and introverted.  This, combined with the fact that she's another role model of mine, puts her high up on my list.  Sometimes, though, she can be over-perfect, which is why she's not higher. ;)

4. Catherine Morland
Catherine is the other heroine I generally get on quizzes, which I certainly don't mind--Catherine is sweet, trusting, innocent, and tries to do what's right.  Unfortunately, I also identify with her in the matter of making everything in life novel-ish, but Catherine is altogether a worthy heroine.

5. Marianne Dashwood
Marianne is such an interesting character--"born to an extraordinary fate," and all that--that I can't
help but be intrigued by her.  I wouldn't say I particularly like her as much as some of the other heroines, and sometimes she can be extremely frustrating, but her reactions are just so interesting and she's so complex that I never tire of reading about her.

6. Fanny Price
I am DEFINITELY not of the group who would call Fanny a doormat.  Indeed, she's quite courageous, especially considering her circumstances and natural temperament.  But I'm not going to rant about that now.  Fanny, as with everything else in MP, improved upon re-reading and I think she's one of those heroines that you either "get" or you don't (in the paraphrased words of Melody).

7. Emma Woodhouse
I suppose that putting Emma at the bottom of my list sort of lives Jane Austen's description of her as
"a heroine whom no one but myself will much like".  Then again, I'm not everyone. :P
Anyways.  Emma is quite possibly the most lifelike heroine, but she can be so annoying that I don't like her quite as much as Fanny.  (Though I DO like all JA's heroines.)


1. Henry Tilney
THIS GUY IS AMAZING.  So few people actually like him, which I think is a huge shame.  I mean, he stands up to his father!  He was willing to talk about muslin and novels!  He provides witty quotes!  He's tactful!  He loves his sister!  He raises puppies!
...Need I go on?  I could, you know.  For hours.

2. George Knightley
Of course, Mr Knightley goes near the top of my list.  I mean, he's seriously SUCH a gentleman. 
He's so honorable and polite and he's willing to sacrifice Emma's love for him if it means her betterment.  I really, really admire him.

3. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Ah, Mr Darcy.  The epitome of a hero, the one that everyone likes.  Well, I do too!  I'll admit that part of the reason I don't like him as much as Knightley ("Never seen him before in her life and she calls him KNIGHTLEY!") or Tilney is because he's too mainstream (*adjusts hipster glasses*), but also, he truly is Proud and Prickly and I think he'd scare me if I ever actually met him.  Even if I met him after Lizzy married him.

4. Colonel Brandon
D'awwww, Colonel Brandon.  I always feel so sorry for the guy throughout S&S--I mean, he's
had a lot of grief in his life, and then he has to go and fall in love with a girl who not only disapproves of second attachments, also considers him Ancient and ends up nearly dying.  But he always acts gently and honorably, and I really love that about him.

5. Edmund Bertram
Do I like Edmund Bertram?...Well.  I guesssss I do.  I mean, aside from the whole marrying-the-cousin thing, he's actually a pretty nice guy.  But for all the popular opinion that Fanny is a doormat, I think the REAL doormat here is Edmund.  He falls in love with a girl because she plays a harp next to a window, and then goes about completely oblivious to everything but her until there are five pages left in the novel, at which he abruptly switches to Fanny.  Why?  Because...he needs solace for his tormented heart? :P
But after all that ranting, I really do like him through most of MP. 

6. Captain Wentworth
Meh. :P  That's the best way to describe him, I think.  I really don't like the way he acted--I mean,
he's almost worse than Edward Ferrars (ALMOST).  He gets offended because a girl is persuaded by the closest thing she has to a mother to refusing him and then refuses contact for years.  Then, when he's forced to come back, he makes sure to rub it in and courts another girl so vigorously that he considers himself nearly engaged, and dreads it.
...Howevah, I do like his letter.  And he DOES have some good points.

7. Edward Ferrars
Yeeeks, and now we come to Edward Ferrars, who irritates and angers me every time I open S&S.  Seriously.  He's cowardly, very oblivious (though really, I suppose I shouldn't criticize him for being blind to the world sometimes...), persists in speaking with Elinor even after she knows about the engagement, and then ends up with a happy ending simply because the girl he fell in love with has no finer feelings.
I will admit, though, that he can be honorable and the part where he refuses to break off the engagement partly redeems him for me.

What do you think of my rankings?  Which are your favorite of the books and hero/heroines?


Melody said...

Okay. One of these days I'm going to have to try my best to explain Edward Ferrars to you. No, better; I'll get Amy to do it. S&S is her favorite, after all.


You should write a post about Henry Tilney, m'dear. I happen to LIKE your opinions on THAT particular hero. SNORRRT.

I LOVE EMMA WOODHOUSE. She's definitely much higher on the list for me, haha. But I like all the heroines and it's hard to rank any on the bottom.

Somehow, the more time that passes the harder it is for me to like Elinor as much. *cough* Awful, isn't it? I do ADMIRE her very much, and she is funny and all that, but... well, I guess it's just one of those things where you have to go to liking other characters better for a while because you get too used to one of them. (Not that she was ever my very favorite.)

Your top three books are almost the same as my top three except in a different order. Haha. :D But I do think that NA is probably bumped to fourth so S&S can be in top three. :P

I have to go do things so I should probably stop rambling aimlessly now... but seriously, some of your accusations about Edward. OUCH. UNJUST ACCUSATIONS. He wasn't perfect, but none of them ARE. :P (Some of them come pretty close though.)

Melody said...

BTW, all Jane Austen's works ARE created equal... but some are more equal than others. ;P

Raelyn said...

I'm surprised that you don't like Persuasion more. It's my favorite Jane Austen novel. I love its autumnal mood, and I relate with Anne a lot too. I'm not a big Captain Wentworth fan though. I don't have any reason to dislike him particularly except the fact that he just isn't my type.

My favorite heroes would have to be Charles Bingley, John Knightley (I know he's not officially a hero!), and George Knightley. Henry Tilney is amazing too.


Anonymous said...


That is all.


PS: We MUST have that convo about Edward Ferrars again... cuz I know you and I disagree with him... and I like him... but I can't remember why, so it has to be after I see the movie again. ; )

Elizabethany said...

Yep, Henry Tilney is so undervalued.
"He raises puppies!" haha, gotta love that!
MY favourite JA novel has to be P&P. Yep, I'm mainstream:-) Favourite heroine is Elizabeth. Favourite hero is a tie between Mr. Knightley and Henry Tilney.
Great post!
(those comment moderation things are getting weirder and weirder. I got "independent gentgem." Wha?!)

Carissa Horton said...

I applaud you for reading them all! I've read Emma, Pride & Prejudice (actually acted as Charlotte in a live musical production), Persuasion, and Sense & Sensibility. While I like Austen a great deal, she's no longer one of my top favorite authors, and I'm not even sure why. Oh well.

Emma is at the bottom of my heroines list too, even though my list isn't complete because I haven't read all of Austen's books. She is dreadfully annoying and, well, self-centered. She think it's being self-assured, but she's really just arrogant.

It's funny. I read a short story not that long ago where Jane Austen met her characters, and the only ones truly happy with her rendering of them were Darcy/Lizzie and Bingley/Jane. Everyone else had nitpicky little fits over how she'd written them, and Emma hated herself the most. It was such fun to read! I wish I could remember the name of the book. It was a compilation and I have no idea what it was called.